Football

Published on August 17th, 2017 | by Paco Polit

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The Great La Liga Season Preview – Part One

Can Barca bounce back? Will Atleti win back the title? Can Eibar keep up their miracle and will time catch up with Athletic Bilbao? 

Twenty teams, three promoted sides, plenty of drama ahead and a reigning champion. Hours away from the 2017-2018 La Liga kick-off, we tackle a review of every side in Spain’s top-flight: First off, we’ll focus on the teams that finished in the top 10 last season.

Real Madrid

Nothing too fancy to say about the Champions League and La Liga champions: after spanking Barça with an aggregate 5-1 win in the Spanish Super Cup, Zinedine Zidane’s men will try to up the ante even further. An inconvenient four-game ban for Cristiano might make the start of the season a little tricky, but shouldn’t be an issue.

Keep an eye on… Marco Asensio. This kid is a riot. He played (very, very well) last season under Zidane, but he threatens to become a regular starter this year and provide plenty of ‘golazos’ with his long-range shots. Also, Dani Ceballos should be entertaining to watch.

Goal – Obviously, keeping hold of the championship trophy. They are, by far, the favourites to win the league.

Barcelona

After Luis Enrique’s departure and Neymar’s traumatic fleeing this summer, Ernesto Valverde has a humungous task at hand: rebuilding a squad that has been more miss-than-hit lately. He still has Leo Messi, though, and that should provide plenty of goals and assists.

Keep an eye on… Ernesto Valverde. In the midst of a chaotic pre-season where the Neymar affair completely destroyed the board’s plans and credibility, ‘Txingurri’ has his most daunting task to date: making the machine work properly again, regardless of the star signings in the last stretch of the market.

Goal – Not winning back La Liga will be perceived by fans as a failure. Odds, however, are against the Catalan squad.

Atlético de Madrid

We can expect the usual reliability and relentless approach in typical Diego Simeone fashion one more season, while they wait for other big sides to stumble and slowly climb their way to the top of the standings. At the end of the day, predictability has become part of Atleti’s charm.

Keep an eye on… Antoine Griezmann. With no possibility of strengthening the squad due to the FIFA transfer ban till January 2018, keeping the Frenchman has been Atleti’s biggest move this summer. The international player will lead the Colchonero attack once again this season.

Goal – Comfortably seizing a spot in next season’s Champions League and maybe, just maybe, eye the second or even the first place if Madrid and Barça slump.

Sevilla

After Jorge Sampaoli left and sports director Monchi decided to go to AC Roma, it’s been a rebuilding summer in Sevilla. Now with Eduardo ‘Toto’ Berizzo on the bench, the team has chosen to fight a plethora of departing players with a few interesting signings.

Keep an eye on… Ever Banega. After a short run in Italy, the Argentinean number 10 will lead the team in the midfield with several high-ranked additions (Muriel, Jesús Navas, Nolito) to finish his abundant assists nicely.

Goal – Reaching the levels of excellence shown in Sampaoli’s first months as their coach, and target Champions League spots for the 2018-2019 season.

Villarreal

Possibly the team with the most high-profile additions this transfer market: Enes Ünal, Carlos Bacca, Pablo Fornals and Rubén Semedo are worthy footballers that make an already powerful starting line-up even stronger.

Keep an eye on… Carlos Bacca. After his undeniably triumphant years in Sevilla, his years in AC Milan weren’t as impressive as he’d have liked, as he never fully adapted to a more physical Calcio. His partnership with Cedric Bakambu is already luring fans in to El Madrigal, as they’re surely into a treat.

Goal – Actually, Villarreal should be more ambitious this campaign and fight to finish within the top four and snatch a ticket for next season’s Champions League.

Real Sociedad

One of the most impressive and fun clubs to watch last season, Eusebio Sacristán’s men got hold of a European spot in the last game of the year and will thoroughly enjoy the journey. At home, they’ve lost winger Yuri to PSG and they’ve added only a few names, such as defender Diego Llorente from Real Madrid.

Keep an eye on… Adnan Januzaj. He signed for United when he was 16, and maybe that’s why most fans believe he’s older than he actually is. Currently 22 and with lots of room to grow, he hopes that the move to Anoeta can revive his career.

Goal – Performance in the Europa League may hurt a squad not as deep as it should be in order to handle three competitions in a year, so their chances of repeating such a great job are slim. They will try, though.

Athletic Club de Bilbao

With the traditional limitations of their own idiosyncrasy – only Basque or Basque-related players in the squad – Athletic has had a placid summer with only a few changes in their roster and a huge switch on their bench, after Ernesto Valverde’s departure to FC Barcelona.

Keep an eye on… Jose Ángel ‘Cuco’ Ziganda. The new coach knows the youth academy pretty well and will have to use it as a recurring source of players that can aid a first-team squad where most of the players remain the same, only one year older.

Goal – Making it to the top half of the standings and, if the timing is right, try launching an assault on the European spots in the final third of the season.

RCD Espanyol

For many months last season, RCD Espanyol seemed to be striving to become the surprise underdog of La Liga with a squad full of left-overs from other teams (Pablo Piatti’s fantastic season comes to mind). This year, millionaire Chen Yensheng has provided Quique Sanchez Flores with some extra tools (Leo Baptistao or prodigal son Sergio García) to improve the team even further.

Keep an eye on… Sergio García. The legendary captain returns two years later after a short stint in the Middle East. Although his performance might be in doubt, his quality and gravitas on the field in undeniable.

Goal – After brushing the European spots last season with the tips of their fingers, they are expected to fight till the end to secure one of them this campaign.

Alavés

The undisputed surprise last season, ‘El Glorioso’ will have to start from scratch after the departure of its architect Mauricio Pellegrino and many of its top players (Camarasa, Deyverson, Theo Hernández…). Newcomer Luis Zubeldia is their new manager.

Keep an eye on… Enzo Zidane and Antonio Sivera. Two youngsters make the spotlight for two different reasons. Zidane’s son will try to move out of the shadow casted by his world-famous father. Meanwhile, Sivera has literally in his hands the chance of proving he’s worthy of becoming a starter and, someday, return to his beloved Valencia as a top goalkeeper.

Goal – Unfortunately, lightning doesn’t strike twice very often. The number of changes in the market and fierce competition will probably send them straight to the bottom of the standings, forcing them to scrap their way out.

Eibar

It’s utterly amazing what Eibar is consistently achieving season after season, never surrendering, always one step ahead of similar sides and seizing the prize of staying in La Liga many weeks before it ends. Truly remarkable. Once again, that and only that will drive Mendilibar and his men’s motivation.

Keep an eye on… Paulo Oliveira. Eibar’s biggest signing ever ($3.7 million) has the burden of high expectations and performance upon its shoulders. He’ll have to command and lead the defense in a team where discipline and clean sheets aren’t only expected: they mean survival amongst the elite.

Goal – Capturing 40 points and securing their continuity in La Liga as soon as possible.

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About the Author

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Paco Polit is a Valencia-based journalist with over ten years experience reporting La Liga, covering both Valencia CF and Levante's news, signings, ups and downs. Madrid and Barcelona are huge, indeed, but the Spanish La Liga is much, much more: regarded as the top football competition in the world, he enjoys explaining why to every reader from abroad.



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